RSA's war memories may soon be shipping out again

TUCKED AWAY: RSA president Barry Pont with memorabilia that the RSA keeps in a shipping container.
TUCKED AWAY: RSA president Barry Pont with memorabilia that the RSA keeps in a shipping container.

Treasured world war memorabilia belonging to the Nelson RSA is languishing in a shipping container in Nelson.

Now, as momentum builds toward 100-year commemorations of the start of World War I, the Nelson Museum is offering to take care of the archives.

RSA members will decide at their annual meeting on March 30 whether they want to hand over the historic material.

The 640-member association is based at the Nelson Suburban Club, where it has its own area.

RSA Nelson president Barry Pont said members had been feeling uncertainty because of the Suburban Club's situation.

The Suburban Club is rebuilding after a fall in revenue, and is now on a renewed membership drive.

Mr Pont said the idea of giving the RSA's archives to the museum was discussed at its monthly meeting this week. It had come about through the two organisations working together on WWI research.

Because its archives were kept in a shipping container, which was not ideal, in time it would probably give them to the museum, he said.

Museum chief executive Peter Millward said it was an important decision for the RSA members to make.

"We want to work with them in this year of all years to honour the 2500 men and women who went away from this region in World War I, and nearly 500 of those died. It's a terrible, terrible loss and we want to honour the memory of all those people."

He said the RSA had done what it could to look after its archives.

"They have moved home about three times and whenever you move you pack stuff into boxes. By the time you have done that a few times it can be at risk and we are offering to help look after it, to be the kaitiaki of that material."

He believed the Tasman Bays Heritage Trust would agree to take on the care of it when the RSA members indicated they were happy for it to go to it.

If the ownership was transferred, it would become the property of the trust which would then take care of it, including the interpretation, storage and digitisation of material, he said.

It includes photos, books, papers, postcards and mementoes from Cairo.

Mr Millward said such items could deteriorate.

One of the concerns members had raised was how easily they could access the material if it was handed over to the trust.

"We want to make it work for them," said Mr Millward.

He said there was a huge amount of work to do for the WWI commemorations.

Mr Pont said the RSA was planning for a major 2015 dawn parade which would mark the 100th anniversary of the Anzac landings at Gallipoli.

Because Nelson's Anzac Park was packed at dawn services, a bigger place would be needed, with the possibility of 10,000 people attending, and the city council had been approached, he said.

The RSA's first choice would be Trafalgar Park and its second would be Saxton Field.

Nationwide there would be fields of remembrance created with white crosses commemorating the fallen soldiers.

In Nelson the RSA would commemorate the 480 from the district who died, with people able to put messages on the crosses.

Nelson had the first combat casualty of World War I, Private William Ham, he said.

"It's not just about those who died but all who served and the effects on their families," said Mr Pont.

Mr Millward said while 2015 would be big for commemorations, for him 2016 was an especially important date. That was because it was the first time an Anzac service was held.

"We had an amazing service at the Church Steps on April 25, 1916. My dream is to re-create that."

The Nelson Mail